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For the Texas Teachers of the Year, Teaching Was a Calling

AUSTIN – For Shanna Peeples and Whitney Crews, teaching found them, in spite of attempts from others to lure them into some other—any other— profession. Today, these two educators were both honored with the state's top teaching award for providing their students with a sense of hope, a love for learning, and endless possibilities for their future.

Peeples, who teaches 11th grade English at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo Independent School District, was named the 2015 Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year. Peeples will also represent Texas in the National Teacher of the Year competition.

Crews, a sixth-grade science and social studies teacher at E.J. Moss Intermediate in Lindale ISD was named the 2015 Elementary Teacher of the Year. Peeples and Crews learned of their top honor at a special ceremony and luncheon at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, sponsored by the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA). Each will receive a cash award, a commemorative trophy and other prizes.

In addition to the state's top two educators, the 34 Regional Teachers of the Year, along with the other four state finalists–Katherine Cass (Chisum ISD), Stephanie Green (Ector County ISD), Christine Amerson (Victoria ISD), and Irene Kistler (North East ISD)–were also honored.

"Congratulations to Shanna and Whitney for being not only outstanding educators, but for taking time to truly connect with their students, showing them that the possibilities for their future are limitless," said Johnny Veselka, Executive Director of TASA. "The teachers we are honoring today are deeply committed to supporting, guiding, instructing, and encouraging each and every student, and do so with little fanfare. But today, please help me celebrate these Teachers of the Year, along with all the devoted teachers across the state who have made a difference in a student's life."

In their Teacher of the Year applications, each educator offered insight into their teaching backgrounds, philosophy and style.

Shanna Peeples
A high school English teacher at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo ISD, Peeples writes: "It's the toughest job you'll ever love, the ad said about the Peace Corps, but it's also a perfect slogan to describe my relationship with teaching and learning. Teaching chose me, but I tried everything I could think of to avoid its call: disc jockey, medical assistant, pet babysitter for the rich, journalist, and finally, finally a teacher." Her fear of teaching was a fear of connecting to pain in her own life. Luckily, Peeples had teachers who encouraged her to see that there was life outside of her own personal struggles, and she was drawn to teaching to do the very same thing for others. "My students, survivors of deep and debilitating trauma, have shaped the kind of teacher I am. To be the best teacher to them, I have to remember this and honor their background. I remember so I can gain their trust because I want them to read and write their way out of where they are. Books, I tell them, help us find our way out of the forest, so to speak, and help us make peace with our past while showing us the promise of a multitude of futures. And so, in a sense, I sell hope to my students."

Whitney Crews
A sixth-grade science and social studies teacher at E.J. Moss Intermediate in Lindale ISD, Crews writes: "Often, teachers come from a long line of teachers. In my case, I am the first in my family. Most everything I do stems from my beliefs that teaching is a calling AND a talent, I must teach the whole child, and I am preparing children for the world, not just for the next grade. I feel like it is my responsibility to provide them with as many opportunities as I can in the short time that I have them. Some of my students never leave Lindale or eat in a restaurant, much less travel abroad. How can I bring them the world is a question that drives many of my plans. Knowing basic math and reading sure takes them places, but if that's all they needed, school could end at third grade. My prayer is that my students are learning to LEARN! If they don't know the answer, how do they find it? My rewards in teaching come from seeing the way students take ownership in their learning and make that connection from the classroom to their own lives and the world around them. Sometimes it comes in very small steps, but that is how every journey begins.

Each year, two teachers from each of the 20 regional Education Service Centers become eligible for two titles, Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year and Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year. To achieve recognition, a teacher must first be chosen as a campus and a district Teacher of the Year, and ultimately a regional honoree. From this group of 40 regional teachers, six finalists are chosen and are interviewed by an independent panel of judges. The state's top elementary and secondary teachers are selected from these six outstanding finalists.

The Texas Teacher of the Year program is sponsored by TASA, with financial support and in-kind contributions from the following:

Platinum Sponsors:

  • Texas Association of School Administrators
  • Texas Retired Teachers Association

Gold Sponsors:

  • Apple
  • Common Sense Media
  • H-E-B
  • Scholastic
  • SMART Technologies
  • TASA on iTunes U

Professional Association Sponsors:

  • Texas American Federation of Teachers
  • Texas Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development
  • Texas Association of School Boards
  • Texas Association of School Business Officials
  • Texas Association of School Personnel Administrators
  • Texas Association of Secondary School Principals
  • Texas Classroom Teachers Association
  • Texas Congress of Parents and Teachers
  • Texas Council of Women School Executives
  • Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association
  • Texas School Public Relations Association
  • Texas State Teachers Association